It was a huge undertaking to help the Ukrainians, and a huge amount was organized by peasant women who belong to an organization called (transl.) the circle of farm women. .. this humanitarian effort – none of it was financed or organized by towns or cities or any official sponsors… was a massive spontaneous effort involving thousands of women. The energy these women created, swirled all around them.
There was something striking about all these peasant woman …Very committed and not connected to any official structures….Something they want to do, had to do and not asking for any help. It was one of the most amazing things I ever witnessed and it was happening on such a huge scale. It was very connected to the earth. Very spiritual. I found myself crying.
– Underground filmmaker Lech Kowalski, on recent experience filming in Poland
[T]he ambiguous matrix of our relationships constitutes the material through which spirit matters. In resistance to structures that have formed and deformed relationship itself, but only in and through these relations, can I “live out what I am.”
– Catherine Keller, On the Mystery; quoting Hadewijch, 13th cen. mystic/poet
The morning of post-Election Day, as I lay abed struggling with my attitude in my usual way, Orin, up earlier, announced the results of the previous day’s voting. I listened with dread, both because I deeply distrust the addictive snare of the political spectacle and because I feared that Trumpian landslide. As by now everybody knows, the reactionary landslide did not occur. Hearing about Fetterman’s win in PA, about the Senate not having been lost to Republicans, I was surprised to feel an unaccustomed joy flood into my body!! Hurrah, some one inside me was saying, the bastards didn’t win!
I repeat, it felt sooo good, that “flush of victory.” Then I sobered up. I remembered Orin’s mention yesterday of the several trillion dollar rehab of our nuclear armaments system, supported bi-partisanly, that we-the-people do not get to vote on. Of course, keep your head on, kid! My heart switched over to gratitude for the journalists like Chris Hedges and the Counterpunch writers who willingly – sacrificially? – play that parade-raining role of pointing to the Emperor’s nakedness, over and over. But recalling that instance in which I had felt the “high”of, if not beating the bastards, of their failure to win big, I was aware of the powerful allure of that heady feeling of victory! I’m quite as vulnerable to it as anybody else. It feels like safety and gives me a delicious something to celebrate in common with a vast number of others. I understood why liberals, keeping within the mind-frame of the good-vs-evil contest, limit politics to simple opposition, rather than speaking, dissentingly, from within an unwavering peace-and-justice-committed perspective.
Whereas, for somebody like me, who intends to keep faith with the peace-and-justice-committed perspective (regardless of how well I do at it), joyful “V-Day”-type celebrations are exceedingly rare; I’m fairly consistently deprived of this kind of high that, though it’s a sort of “junk food,” not actually good for you, is awesomely tasty! Thus, not for the first time, I appreciated the role of dissent and those who keep that faith, their eyes on what is actually happening that morally should not, or not happening that ought to, instead of on the neoliberal shadows dancing alluringly on the cave wall. I appreciate those who are willing to live outside that consensual solidarity – summed up in Vote Democrat! – that provides its believers shared (but bogus) certainty in an uncertain universe!
But what is there, outside of dedication to journalistic truth, that can compete with the heady confidence one is on the “winning”, the “right” side of history, both reward and reassurance for liberals who subsist on supremely tasty NPR/MSNBC junk? Not everyone – including me – wants to live forever in a desert deprived of any ecstatic moments or the occasional sugar high!
Lately, my reading in process theology has introduced me to the terms entanglement and nonseparability; the words are not new to me, but they way they are used is. They seem to be ecologically-aware replacement for the more commonly used interdependence, or for that even more “over-processed” word, love. I can imagine entanglement, which also refers to the mycorrhizally connected world of mushrooms, being a congenial concept for liberals. It might connote political engagement with oppressed others – immigrants, LGBTQers, black lives, the homeless, the plastic-filled oceans, endangered polar bears and rescued domestic animals, etc. Surely the liberal heart – mine included – can hum with happiness over the certainty of entanglement with all these clear cases calling for my empathy. But there’s another level of entanglement, the actual on-the-ground embodied level, that is not so heralded. In fact, entanglements of family, neighborhood, and local community are not part of liberal discourse, an omission revealed for example, in our default home-buying preference for suburban or rural “separation” over urban entanglement.
Is there not a wariness of entanglements at more intimate and commonplace levels where relationships are complicated, wear less congenial faces, allow much less self-congratulation? Arguably these more embodied entanglements, the really impossible ones, ought to be our first priority, not our last! And for that matter how do we imagine we can live entangledly when we’re disengaged from the original “soil” of relationships in which, for better and for worse, we were raised ?
My question is this: do liberals secretly fear embodiment? That is, most of us choose an enfamilied way of life but cannot defend the personally-felt bonds of “family” or “place” (as in “staying-in-place”) in our politics. Is not a key – maybe the key – to the triumph of liberal consensus the relativizing of all connections most meaningful to the personal heart? With family demeaned, people miss the obligation to defend the small, the local, the familiar, the homely, the vulgar, the reality of friction and fight, of reconciliation and peace-making, against corporatocratic sameness. Is not this loss of knowing what we’re obliged to defend (i.e., politically) a giving up on the very “oneness” of entanglement? To be sure, “oneness” is imaginary (and never can be quite real for us, who do not “need” our relatively affluent neighbor, nor they us). But in failing to protect/defend the bonds of affection – or the bonds of ambivalence, if you will – do we not surrender to the non-imaginary totalizing oneness of global corporate capitalism?
Why is this oppression – this neoliberal robotizing project that turns down in us the flame of the human, while turning up the tolerance for standardization, that renders us less capable of moral discernments on behalf of the heart’s entanglement – not oppression?
Granted, my question is probably unanswerable. Even if it’s true that indigenous or peasant cultures do better at maintaining the bonds that keep humans human, we cannot simply return society to indigenousness! But does this impossibility mean embodiment – for us – is out of the question?
What if we were to see our aversion to embodiment as due to a weak (mistaken) understanding of that thing most of us are not averse to – that thing called love?
Our problem with embodiment may lie in a cause ordinary people can address provided we can a) let go of (our) reactive anti-theist fundamentalism and, b) even more fundamental, challenge the distinction between “love” and “eros” that keeps people obedient to the age-old opposition of flesh and spirit by which personal desire is ever held suspect! In our sexually liberated society where those old flesh-vs-spirit hangups have been banished forever, antipathy to eros, though disguised (unconscious), is still very real. How else can we account for the liberal habit of routinely limiting political wanting to a Party of essential non-difference, if not for the fact that among us eros is ruthlessly repressed?
Simply, our political wanting suffers from lack of eros. With eros separated from “love,” and love from the God in whom we no longer believe, the proscription against our wanting, the negativizing of self interest, is difficult to defy. Looked at theologically, the refusal of bliss blocks immanence, the movement of that “God reality” downward into embodiment. Thus refusing incarnation we keep love weak and yield the “God-sanctioned” field to, as Chris Hedges calls them – the Christian (fascist) heretics.
It’s a long shot, I’ll grant, but let’s say it’s at least possible that liberal failure to live the process of entanglement – i.e., in taking on radical lifeway change, shrinking-the-carbon-footprint, sustainably staying in place – is because those moral goods are associated with deprivation (that is, they place restrictions on our freedom to do what we want!) However, the changes called for by contraction are perceived as deprivation only because we’ve already canceled erotic calling! In our erotic ignorance, on-the-ground, impossibly entangled embodied living is without “ultimate” (intrinsic) meaning even though it is the home we, as bodies, desire. Erotically blocked, incapable of blessing eros, we cannot sacralize the sacred, no matter how much we wave that word around.
It is barely thinkable that we might extricate ourselves from neoliberalism’s constructed appetites, its progress gospel that afflicts us with insatiable hunger for better, for better places and more congenial people ( a kind of greed that turns relationships into means instead of ends, and may have more to do with the domestic abuse problem – so much better publicized than the problem of family demeanment – than we realize). But surely neoliberal totality cannot be resisted without re-asserting the supremacy of the wanting that is not greed. That is, eros is obedient to the heart and – crucially – to the heart’s wanting for creative expression. Not egoic wanting, eros is the soul’s wanting that wants ultimately, a world built creatively in its own inclusive image. Self interest is soul interest, pursuing it opens possibility where before was impossibility. Imagination’s eye sees what otherwise is sheer deprivation as not deprivation but a process of world-building.
That is, because and as long as the soul’s (divine) reality is nothing, we treat as “nothing” the often deformed relationships with othernesses closest to us and most wearily familiar, within marriages and families, in our own commonplace places. Only in the possibility opened up in creative expression – in its process – can that addiction to “better,” (with its strange preference for “no-places” – suburbia, Starbucks, chain places erased of personality – over the wartier, change-resistant local reality) be let go. This means not denying or renouncing those things we’ve learned to want, but turning to our own down-homely creations and our real presence here, in homes, families, localities, as our work of central worth. By refusing to treat the soul’s calling as nothing, we will take back our power of thought from totalizing neoliberal reality. We will achieve beauty and – sometimes – excellence, in artifacts woven, sculpted, written, composed from the impossibilities that are native food for the poetic soul.
The impossible project of restoring embodiment against the entire western liberal thrust to escape nature’s limitations, demands this different understanding of love, that is, the long-postponed awareness of Divine immanence, a “Love Supreme” ( called that by Coltrane the artist!) The impossibility is supported, rather than opposed by secular liberal post-religion intransigence, i.e, by ourselves! This is why embodiment can be taken on only by individuals who know the ultimate liberalism-defying truth: I matter! This truth is unattainable unless/until one confesses (secret) lowliness (the personal insoluble unhappiness that has been carried for years or decades or a lifetime). This mattering is the crack through which radical good news for the heart – in which even I am included – enters. As an experience of being loved for one’s poetic, dark-tinged truth that has dared expression, this is direct experience of Immanence, of panentheism, “all-is-in-God.”
This difficult-to-impossible transformational task of cooperation with Immanence has radical regime-change (political) implications. It defies the unconscious self-abnegation that conveniently divides human communities into those with talent, or gifts, and those who, in their not-mattering, must bow to life without their presence in it – to the totalizing neoliberal reality as if nothing outside it existed!
Safe to say, many white people of my era grew up under the old conditioning that’s still operative: to believe that love is altruism, its goodness and purity proven in self-renunciation, doing good works, etc. Here is evidence of the unconscious power of the martyr exemplar, powerful even among liberals who believe sacrifice – except on the battlefield (with luck someone else’s) – is anachronistic, entirely passé. (In fact, declaring the demise of sacrifice may be premature: the late anarchist anthropologist David Graeber noted in The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, that the “hazel-nut gatherers and cattle herders who dragged great slabs to build Stonehenge almost certainly worked less than [the modern office or factory worker].”
For the project of embodiment, “love” and self-renunciation have to be wrestled apart. As well, eros must be wrestled apart from selfishness. This, I suggest, is accomplished by taking up calling in the self-interested “bliss” of one’s art that can be any work taken up creatively, practiced devotedly. In this way, via art-making, embodiment is incarnation. (Please note: For those who reject Christianity’s exceptionalist “incarnation,” this way I’m suggesting to take on embodiment is perfectly suited. Healing the separation between mind and body through art opens the possibility even I, though inextricably part of this culminating generation of violent, bloody western civilization, can be actor in the-world-in-process. No exceptionalism, but a taking up of in-common commonness, one by one.)
In neoliberal obedience, discounting the most basic social roles and fundamental this-world relationships with their infinite complications, intractabilities and set-backs, we make them replaceable and discardable. Having lost the very sources of heart sustenance we’re addicted to the substitutes – the distractions and virtualized relationships, junk food and junk culture, in techno-corporatocracy. Here, in restoring life/liveliness to embodied living is the basis for resistance on behalf of what needs defending, which is, in the very impossibility of living entangledly, the (last?) chance, in one’s lifetime, to live in and through that entanglement.
In case you cannot tell, I write this propositionally, in support of my own struggle for presence, to live in entanglement. As much as anything, the Jesus wisdom of “love thy neighbor as thyself” is called for. This wisdom has mostly not been followed – or, at least we can agree it has failed spectacularly over and over. Possibly we stumble over the “as thyself” part, flinging it away as if it were a burning coal – dangerous! The danger is real, but we must be careful for it may be joy’s disguise.